How Vygotsky defined the zone of proximal development (2023)

What is the zone of proximal development?

The zone of proximal development (ZPD), or zone of potential development, refers to the range of skills that a person can achieve under expert guidance but is not yet able to achieve on their own.

Developed by psychologists.Lew Wygotski, this learning theory can be observed in a classroom or any other place where a person has the opportunity to develop new skills.


There are three different categories that a student can fall into in terms of ability. ForTo learnIn order to be carried out, it is fundamental that the specialist understands the specific phase of the student's ZPD.

Task that a student cannot complete with help

Tasks that are outside the student's ZPD are those that cannot be completed even with the help of an expert.

If the task is not within the student's ZPD, the expert can attempt to decrease the difficulty and find more appropriate tasks based on the student's skill level.

Tasks that a student can do with help

When a student is on the verge of mastering a set of skills required to complete a task, but still needs expert guidance, they are considered to be in their zone of closest development.

In this situation, an expert can use various techniques to help the student better understand the concepts and skills needed to complete a task on their own.

Tasks that a student can complete without help

At this stage, the student can complete tasks independently and has mastered the skills required to do so. The student does not need help from aspecialist.

When a student reaches this stage, the expert can increase the difficulty of the task to find the next ZPD for the student andencourage further learning.

key factors

There are several basic concepts developed by Vygotsky and expanded by others who have followed him that help complete this theory of learning.

The success of this learning process implies:

  • The presence of someone with knowledge and skills to guide the student.
  • Supportive activities, known as scaffolding, provided by the specialist and guiding the learner
  • Social interactions that allow the student to work on their skills and abilities.

Theories and examples of child development

The “More Informed Other”

The 'more informed other' is the one who has a higher level of knowledge than the student and can provide direction during the learning process.

(Video) Zone of Proximal Development

Although a child may not yet be able to do something on their own, they can accomplish the task with the help of a trained teacher, which may include a parent, teacher, another adult, or a peer.

framework theory

Once a child is in their ZPD, an expert will provide the right support to help themperform a new task or ability🇧🇷 The activities, instructions, tools and resources used to support this learning process are called scaffolds.

Examples of scaffolding that educators can use include:

  • Ask a student what they think should be done nextthinking processwas, or if there are other ways to solve the problem
  • Modelhow to solve a similar problem or complete a similar task
  • Divide students into small groups and ask them to discuss a new concept before engaging with it.
  • Use visual aids to help students conceptualize an activity before engaging in it
  • Ask students to use their prior knowledge to better understand more complex topics
  • Use online metacognitive tools such as material self-assessment and self-correction to help students learn concepts

Eventually, the scaffolding can be removed and the student can complete the task independently.

Although scaffolding is most commonly associated with the zone of proximal development, it is not a concept originally introduced by Vygotsky. Instead, this notion was proposed by other researchers who expanded on their original theories.

social interaction

Vygotsky believed that learning can take placesocial interactionbetween someone with more knowledge and the student was fundamental. Although the expert may be an adult, Vygotsky also emphasized the power of peer learning.

For example, when children learn a new concept, the social interaction between the adult expert and all the children is crucial first. But if some children understand the concept while others are still in their ZPD, peer interaction can create the most conducive learning environment.

ZPD applications in the classroom

The zone of proximal development is a moving target. By giving children tasks they cannot easily complete on their own and providing them with the guidance they need to complete them, educators can make incremental progress in the learning process.

Some examples of ZPD applications in the classroom:

  • A teacher in oneexperimental psychologyThe course could initially provide students with a framework to guide them through their experiments. Then the teacher slowly dismantles the scaffolding and only gives brief descriptions of how to proceed. Ultimately, the students should develop and carry out their experiments independently.
  • A teacher can provide follow-up worksheets for students learning to write the alphabet. The teacher can also use a blackboard to model the steps of writing letters. If some students are stuck, the teacher can have them practice on the board together until they master the skill.
  • For children learning another language, the teacher can write a sentence on the board, read it aloud, and encourage students to take turns reading it aloud. The teacher can then divide the children into groups to practice reading together before assigning reading tasks to complete independently.

What is sociocultural theory?

Possible scaffolding challenges

While scaffolding can be incredibly helpful for students to learn a new concept or skill, these learning techniques may not be effective if the teacher does not know each student's unique ZPD.

According to the survey, some of the difficulties educators may encounter include:

(Video) Vygotsky's Theory of Cognitive Development in Social Relationships

  • Not having enough time and/or resources to understand each student's ZPD
  • Having too many students to properly understand each other's ever-changing ZPD
  • Not fully understood the concept of ZPD and/or scaffolding
  • Struggling to maintain enough cognitive flexibility to scaffold
  • Not organized enough to get on with the scaffolding

A word from Verywell

The zone of proximal development is an important concept in the fields of pedagogy and psychology. By understanding how the ZPD works, educators and specialists can be better prepared to design teaching and learning programs that maximize the tools and resources available to students.

Verywell Mind uses only quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to back up the facts in our articles. read ourspublishing processto learn more about how we fact-check our content and keep it accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.

  1. I bThe zone of proximal development as a general concept: a framework for the synthesis of Vygotsky's theories.philosophy and theory of education. 2017;51(1):18-30. doi:10.1080/00131857.2017.1421941

  2. lago rVygotsky about the educational booklet. Pedro Lang; 2012.

  3. Abtahi Y.Students, tools and the zone of proximal development.Research in mathematics education. 2017;20(1):1-13. doi:10.1080/14794802.2017.1390691

  4. Doo MI, Bonk C, Heo H.A meta-analysis of the impact of scaffolding on online learning in higher education.IRRODL. 2020;21(3). doi:10.19173/irrodl.v21i3.4638

    (Video) Zone of Proximal Development and Scaffolding EXPLAINED!

  5. Shvarts A, Bakker A.The Early History of the Scaffolding Metaphor: Bernstein, Luria, Vygotsky, and Before.Law of Spirit Worship.2019;26(1):4-23. doi:10.1080/10749039.2019.1574306

  6. Petosa RL, Smith LH.Peer guidance on health behavior change: a systematic review.American Journal of Health Education.2014;45(6):351-357. doi:10.1080/19325037.2014.945670

  7. Bardack S, Obradovic J.Observe the teachers' demonstrations and scaffolding of executive function in the context of the classroom.Psychology of application development J. 2019;62:205-219. doi:10.1016/j.appdev.2018.12.004

Continue reading

  • Crain W.Development theories: concepts and applications.6ª ed. Essex: Pearson Education Limited; 2014.

  • Vygotsky, L.S.The Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes🇧🇷 Harvard University Press; 1978.

How Vygotsky defined the zone of proximal development (1)

ForKendra's Cherry
Kendra Cherry, MS, is an author and educational consultant focused on helping students learn about psychology.

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